Tiny sensors track 'lost' objects

Australian scientists are working on a new type of sensor that can locate wandering objects - including that missing coffee mug.

Known as FLECK Nano, the sensors are small enough to be attached to a wide range of objects and, according to CSIRO research engineer Phil Valencia, can also be programmed to measure more than location.

"We've developed interfaces for various sensors such as humidity and temperature, accelerometers for sort of tracking motion and things like that as well as other little things for controlling power outlets and stuff like that," says Valencia.

"So it really just depends on what the object is that you're interested in and then you want to pick sensors that make sense for that particular object"

Valencia says the technology could be used to solve the mystery of migrating coffee mugs.

"I have a coffee mug for example which is sensored with a temperature sensor and an accelerometer to track the coffee mug where it's going through the office," he says. "So if I leave it anywhere I can find where it is and I can also find out the temperature of my coffee."

There may be applications beyond the office as well.
Tracking cheese

Valencia says the sensors could be used to help consumers ensure they don't eat an out-of-date block of cheddar for example, and is more reliable than the old 'sniff test'.

"It can be tracked and say where the cheese is, what temperature variation through its life did it experience," says Valencia, "That information can be sent back to the database and can also be analysed by people."

"When the cheese finally makes it to your fridge for example, the fridge could download that data directly from the cheese and sort of say 'hey, your cheese has gone through this variation so I would recommend that you eat it by the end of the week' or something like that. "

Researchers are still working out how to power the devices more efficiently. It would be impractical to constantly change the batteries if the tiny sensors were attached to hundreds of objects.


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